How to Embrace Your Regrets

Posted by on July 29, 2014

One of the reasons I love to paint is because it gives me time to think. When I don’t feel like painting though, it’s usually because I don’t feel like thinking. Which is a good sign I probably need to. Funny how that works, huh?

Anywho, Lately I’ve thought about one of everyone’s least favorite things to think about: regrets.

“Live without regrets” is a popular motto, right up there with the cliched “live life to the fullest!” that’s constantly emblazoned on tee shirts and under high school yearbook photos. This idea actually used to drive me crazy, in more ways than one. On one hand, I knew everyone has regrets and would steadily accumulate more, so this mantra bugged me because it’s impossible. That didn’t stop me from trying to live it though, which lead to more craziness.

It’s gonna happen. You’re going to mess up. It’s ok.

Can our regrets help us?

Let’s mess around with this, shall we?

Think of a good, juicy regret that makes you want to bang your head on that wall. Got one? Good.

Now ask yourself this:

What did I want in that situation? How did I want to feel?

What could I have done to make that situation better?

How can I apply this to the future? Can I “go back”, or relive that situation in any way to do it right?

That last one’s tricky. We can’t go back, and we can’t always try it again. But sometimes we can.

When I was 13, I visited the beach boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California with my aunt and cousin. We ate funnel cake, rode the roller coaster and the ferris wheel, and I watched the other California girls with their golden hair, tanned legs, and equally tanned and golden-haired boyfriends sharing milkshakes, cuddling and holding hands, or sucking face in the line to the haunted house. I was born in California, but I felt like a pale elephant with bad teeth lumbering down the boardwalk, practically invisible. I felt worlds away from those beautiful, seemingly carefree girls and their hot boyfriends.

I wanted to feel as beautiful, adored, and carefree as those girls appeared to be.

I wasted a perfectly good time on the boardwalk feeling horrible about myself. I can’t go back to being 13 (and who in their right mind would want to?!) but I’ve added another item to my lifetime to-do list: Go back to the Santa Cruz boardwalk with my husband and have a great time. Feel beautiful now and realize that I can feel all of those things I wanted to feel then.

After that, move on.

Forgive yourself. Be compassionate with yourself and know that if you’d had the tools to do differently, you would have done differently. A life without regrets is a life free of learning.

See the gift in your mistake and let it push you forward.

The summer after the boardwalk trip, I went to South Dakota with my family and everyone but me swam in an absolutely stunning lake that looked like it belonged in National Geographic, with sparkling clear water and grey rocky cliffs and surrounded on all sides by lush summer forests.

I felt too fat to take off my tee shirt and shorts, so I sat on the shore.

Fast forward 12 years: I just returned from a trip to Lake Powell. Same pant size, same family members, equally beautiful, though different lake.

I wore a swimsuit for a week straight with zero shame. No worries about pale, dimply legs or a puffy stomach. I paddle boarded, kayaked, rode tubes and wave runners, jumped (ten foot) cliffs, ran up and down houseboat stairs all week long. I felt gorgeous. I knew I didn’t look “perfect” and I didn’t give two farts either. I had a freaking ball and even when I ate my weight in amazing vacation food each day, I kept wearing the swimsuits.

And it all felt so much more amazing because I’ve experienced the exact opposite.

This is what it means to embrace regrets. Love the person you are now and the person you once were. Love the growth process, notice changes in yourself.

So time for the goods. What do you regret, and how can it move you forward? 

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